One of my favourite things about going to conventions is discovering games I probably would have completely missed without attending that con. Birds of a Feather Western North America is one of those games.
This is a true hidden gem welcoming card game that I think is probably going to be missed by most folk and I’m hoping this review will help more people discover this birding card game.
Disclosure: Thank you to Snowbright Studio for letting us take a review copy of this card game home from Origins. Links in this post may be affiliate links. As an Amazon associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
Learn about Birds of a Feather Western North America
Birds of a Feather: Western North America is an update to the original Birds of a Feather card game which was published in 2015 by Nothing Sacred Games. This new version which is being published by Snowbright Studio is by the same designer, Teale Fristoe, and features artwork by Trevor Fristoe and Quill Kolat.
Improvements in this printing of the game include new graphic design and improved rules for two and three-player games. These new rules reduce the amount of luck at low player counts and make the game more strategic.
Speaking of player count this card game plays an impressive one to seven players with games taking under half an hour at all player counts.
While the box says this is a game for ages eight plus, I think even younger kids could play this, though maybe not play it well.
In Birds of a Feather Western North America, the players are birders travelling to different habitats trying to see as many different birds as possible. Each round you choose which bird you will head out to see by playing a card. Everyone flips their cards over simultaneously and then gets to check off every bird that is in the same habitat that they visited. The newly played cards, the arriving birds, become lingering birds and stay for one round. Watching what’s lingering and predicting what cards other players will be playing is key to collecting the most birds.
One cool thing about Birds of a Feather: Western North America is that it is a very environmentally friendly game. All of the components are made from recycled materials. You won’t find any shrink wrap on the cards or even the box itself. In addition, part of the proceeds from each copy sold is donated to Journey North, a science program that studies migration patterns.
This small box contains a pack of sixty bird cards, a thick pad of double-sided score sheets, and a well-laid-out rulebook. All of this is nestled into a functional cardboard insert with some pretty bird art on it.
In the box, you will also find a piece of promotional material for Teatime Adventures a tabletop RPG from the same publisher. On the back of this ad, you will find an Apple Turnover recipe. Making this the second game I’ve ever played that included a recipe. Check out my EXIT The Game The House of Riddles review for info on the first game I own that did this (and no we haven’t actually tried out either recipe).
As for the rulebook, it’s pretty good but I do suggest you read through it twice if playing with less than four players as there’s a rule about drawing extra cards from the deck each round that we missed for our first few plays.
One tool you won’t find in the box, but which can be very useful, is the Birds of a Feather Western North America app which is available on iOS, and Android. This free app provides a way to play solo. More importantly, it provides a digital score sheet that does all the math for you when playing the physical game. You just have to tap on each bird as you discover them in the game.
The app also provides information on each of the birds in the game, something that isn’t present on the physical cards.
How to Play Birds of a Feather Western North America
Getting started in Birds of a Feather Western North America couldn’t be easier. First, you deal out a hand of cards to each player based on the player count. For most, but not all player counts this will be the entire deck. Then, if any cards are left over they become a draw deck.
Everyone grabs a scoresheet, or opens up the scoresheet part of the Birds of a Feather app, and you are ready to start.
Each round, everyone picks one bird card to play and places it face down on the table in front of them. This is done simultaneously. These cards represent the Arriving Birds.
Once everyone has a face down card in front of them, all of the cards are revealed. If you are playing with less than four players, cards are flipped face up from the draw deck so that there are at least four arriving birds on the table each round.
Now everyone looks at all of the cards on the table, which includes all of the Arriving Birds that were just played but also Lingering Birds which are the cards left on the table from the previous round. They then get to tick off every bird type they haven’t seen yet that matches the habitat of the card they played this round.
There are five different habitats and seven different birds for each habitat. The birds range in rarity from Eggs (of which there are three in each habitat) to the Ace (of which there is only one in each habitat). How many of each type of bird there is in the deck is shown both on the cards themselves and on the score sheets.
Once everyone has marked off the birds they have spotted, the Lingering Birds (cards left on the table from last round), are cleared and the newly played cards, the Arriving Birds, are moved to the centre of the table to become the new Lingering Birds.
This basic play loop gets disturbed a bit whenever someone plays a Raptor. There is one Raptor bird for each suit. When a Raptor is flipped over they scare away any lingering birds in the same habitat. This causes those cards to be discarded before anyone can spot them that round.
Play continues, revealing, spotting, and swapping arriving and lingering birds, until everyone has one card left in their hand. At that point, the game ends and the players total their score.
Eggs are worth no points, Aces are worth two points and every other bird type is worth one point. You get a bonus of three points if you spot all of the birds in a habitat, which has to include an egg (even though they are worth no points on their own).
The player with the most points wins. In the case of a tie the player who spotted the most complete sets wins the game with further ties broken by who spotted the rarest bird, with ties there broken by the rarest bird on the highest habitat on the score sheet. If there’s still a tie the players share the victory.
In addition to these basic rules the rulebook also has a couple of variants to make the game less random. The first is the Migration Variant. When using this optional rule, at the start of the game after everyone has their full hand of cards, players will pass a set number of cards to the player on their left. The number of cards passed is based on the player count. With up to four players you pass three cards, and then one less card is passed for each player above four.
Next is the More Strategic Two to Three Player Variant which is new to this printing of Birds of a Feather. This cannot be used with the Migration Variant.
With this variant, each player will create their own hand of cards and a fifteen bird draw deck. Each player gets ten cards, they pick one card to keep for them and one to add to their deck. They then pass their hand. With two players you pass to your opponent, with three you alternate passing to the player on your left and then right. When players have drafted all ten cards they get an additional hand of ten and then repeat until the entire set of cards is drafted.
With two players each player will create their own draw deck, when playing with three players you make a shared draw deck while drafting.
Just like in the base game, when the Arriving Birds are flipped over cards from these decks will also be revealed so that there are always four cards revealed each round.
Finally, there are rules for solo play. For solo play, you get a thirteen card hand with the rest of the cards forming a draw deck. Each round you pick one card to play, as usual, but you then draw three other cards from the deck so that there are four arriving birds. Raptors have no effect when playing solo and other than that scoring is the same.
The only additional twist for solo play is that at the end of each round, you discard one card from your hand and draw one from the deck. The game ends when you can no longer draw from the deck.
You then total the score and get ranked from “Forgot your binoculars?” to “Award winning birder!”
Trust me when I say that all of that description of how to play made Birds of a Feather Western North America sound way more complicated than it really is. If I was with you now with the game in front of us I could show you how to play in about a minute.
Birds of a Feather is a great welcoming game
I have to give Snowbright Studio credit for having one of the most inviting and welcoming booths at the con. It really was something to see, as Deanna did this demo sitting on a park bench surrounded by flowers and vegetation that made you feel like you were chilling in the outdoors.
Another thing I respect is that Snowbright prides itself on being an LGBTQ+ game studio dedicated to creating heartwarming games that spark imagination and inspire action. I suggest checking out their other games, especially if you are looking for non-combat focused RPG experiences.
While impressed by the booth and the people behind the game, it was the gameplay in Birds of a Feather that really caught our attention. After just a couple of sample rounds, we saw the simplicity and elegance of the game’s design. This is an easy-to-learn game where the mechanics are well tied to the theme. The overall effect is an elegant game that just makes sense.
In Birds of a Feather Western North America, you are a birder, so you want to see as many birds as possible. To do this you have to travel to different habitats. Each turn you decide on a bird to spot, but try to time it so that you not only see the bird you are looking for but that you get there just as other birds are also arriving. At the same time, you’ve been hearing about other birds in each area, the lingering birds, so your choice of where to go could be based on that. Do you head to that hotspot everyone else was at last round or do you head off somewhere new? See, how it all just makes sense thematically?
This aspect of the game really struck a chord with my youngest daughter, Genevieve, who has a number of learning disabilities centred around central processing disorder. To her, this game made more sense than most other games we’ve played together due to the close tie between the theme and the mechanics.
She even spotted elements I missed like the fact that eggs are probably the most common to see because they don’t move and would be easy to spot.
Another aspect of this game that I appreciate is how it plays up to seven players. You don’t get many seven player games that aren’t party games or purely abstract games. A high player count, thematic, strategic card game that’s also a great filler game is a rare find.
While the high player count is nice, I’m also impressed by how well the game plays at lower player counts, especially when you play with the variant rules. If I was to sit down and teach this game to a hobby gamer I would jump to the more strategic variant on the second play after an initial quick learning game to teach the game’s core loop.
Overall I’m very glad Deanna convinced me to ask Showbright Studio for a review copy of Birds of a Feather Western North America. This seems like an easily overlooked game, the kind of game I love to highlight here on the blog and on The Tabletop Bellhop Gaming Podcast.
This is a very solid, quick-playing game that does an amazing job of integrating the bird-watching theme with card play.
Okay, that’s a lot of praise for Birds of a Feather. One other thing that’s important to know is that this is not a deep-thinky game. While there are strategic and tactical elements here, which include long-term planning in regard to the order you will play your cards and in reacting to what the other players have played, this isn’t a heavy game in any way. This game is going to be too light and too simple for some game groups. That said, it was Deanna, the heavy gamer in our group, who was won over by Birds of a Feather Western North America, so even some hardcore gamers might want to give this one a shot.
What I personally want to do with Birds of a Feather Western North America is head out to the county and show it off to local businesses along the Lake Erie shore.
We happen to live in one of the biggest birding regions of the world. We are located along one of the main migration routes for a huge number of bird species (and also monarch butterflies).
Head forty-five minutes south and you will find yourself in towns, like Kingsville, that have built their entire tourist industry around birders and their seasonal visits. This is the kind of game that should be sitting on the shelf at Banded Goose Brewery and be in the rooms at The Grove Hotel. I should be able to buy a copy at the Pelee Wings Nature Store on my way to the Point Pelee National Park.
I’ve noticed on past trips that you can find copies of Wingspan out there, but to me, this is a much more accessible and welcoming game that would be better suited to most tourists and birders.